Public Comment

Commentary: Make Every Day ‘Bike to Work Day’

By Erica Etelson
Thursday May 08, 2008 - 10:35:00 AM

Thursday, May 15 is National Bike to Work Day and, across the country, we can witness the spectacle of mayors and governors, CEOs and celebrities, donning brand new helmets and pedaling off toward a green horizon. Tomorrow, they’ll be back to driving so that, by year’s end, they’ll have traveled more than 13,000 miles by car.  

With gas prices percolating toward $4 a gallon, it is unclear just how high prices will need to go before they force Americans out of their beloved vehicles. Often, when I’m biking around Berkeley, especially in foul weather, drivers give me pitying looks meant to convey sympathy for my plight—poor middle-aged woman without a car. Actually, I do have a car, but I use it as little as possible, which turns out to be very little indeed. I bike just about everywhere I go, including food shopping, play date pick-ups and on dinner dates with my husband. And I do it in all kinds of weather with the aid of an amazing invention called a raincoat that keeps me dry! I’m an unathletic 40-year old with weak, skinny legs and a tendency toward frostbitten fingers, but I cannot say that biking causes me to suffer in any way. I’ve even grown accustomed to the charming effect of a helmet pressed against my hair and consider it an eco-fashion statement. 

Biking gives me a chance to be outside, to connect with other bicyclists and pedestrians, to notice the spring flowers coming into bloom and the manic din of children at recess. Instead of zipping around in a climate-controlled box, I’m spending time being a part of the actual world, filled as it is with wonders like foggy mornings, street musicians and life-threatening potholes on University Avenue. If I need further inspiration, there’s my octogenarian neighbor Stan who rides his bike every day, sometimes even shlepping around deliveries for a local bike courier service. 

I don’t mean to sound righteous about biking. I do it because I enjoy it and because, frankly, I’m terrified of what a planet that is five degrees warmer will be like for my child and yours. And I’m pretty convinced that it’s only a matter of years before we hit the bottom of the crude oil barrel so, in that sense, biking today is merely practice for a post-oil future.  

If elected officials really want to promote biking, they should have a look at Le Cyclocity public bike program in Paris and thirteen other European cities. Parisians have access to a fleet of 20,000 theft-proof bikes strategically parked near transit hubs. With the swipe of a credit card, they unlock the bike and pedal away, often along designated bike lanes freshly painted in bright blue. The five million European subscribers take 30 million Cyclocity bike trips a year, and local businesses are thriving because bicyclists are more likely to stop and shop or grab a snack than are motorists deterred by the prospect of parking headaches.  

The parking dilemma surely rings a bell here in Berkeley—if I’m driving down Shattuck or College Avenue and feel a sudden urge for a latté, chances are the cost and nuisance of finding a parking spot will deter me. But if I’m on my bike…get that espresso machine steaming. 

A citizen’s movement is underway to bring Cyclocity to San Francisco. In our (mostly) flat, temperate, health-conscious and environmentally-aware city of Berkeley, biking is a natural. If Berkeley wants to give teeth to its Climate Action Plan, we should be looking at bringing Cyclocity to town tout suite. 


Erica Etelson is Berkeley resident.